When many Americans remained vigilantly awake late into the night on Election Day 2000, a night when both Democrats and Republicans were united in their gut-wrenching emotions as network news maps flickered like holiday bulbs gone haywire, no one1 imagined the outcome of those events would lead to a night like tonight, when the world holds vigil over the impending death of Saddam Hussein, former leader of Iraq and convicted war criminal.
In the United States, the week between Christmas and New Year's is normally a psychological vacation—a foreshortened work week with the balm of kith and kin bookending one's mailed-in efforts. No one schedules important project due dates during this week; no Microsoft Project milestones are assigned to one's Outlook calendar. While as a culture we lie dormant this week, and those with the means gorge on leftovers and "bowl week" in college athletics, we turn our minds from calamities and atrocities in this world. If we think of war at all, and if we paid attention in middle- or high-school history courses, we might remember the story of the Christmas Cease-fire of 1914, or if we do not remember the whole story, we might remember the feelings the story evokes—community despite differences, tolerance among sworn enemies.
The Christmas Cease-fire story functions to imbue Christmas with even greater majesty than the religious narratives alone. In fact, the story of the Christmas Cease-fire serves as ideological a function as stories about Betsy Ross, Crispus Attucks, and a certain felled cherry tree. Part of the message seems to state that although we fight fervently, we fight reluctantly; that we wish the world allowed us to drop weapons and shake hands with one another; that basic human decency does not die within the abominable dynamo of war.
Like all such stories, the ideological work is largely separate from fact. This holiday season, the world peace many of us anticipate based upon this very story from World War I is torn asunder, and the truth about war (and about humanity with regards to war) is writ large as Iraq2 prepares to execute Saddam Hussein.
One's belief in capital punishment aside, the speed with which Iraqi officials intend to accomplish this execution shakes the foundation of U.S. due process. Hussein was sentenced to death on November 5, 2006, and that sentence was upheld on December 26, 2006, and (according to U.S. mainstream media's coverage of events since December 26) the Iraqi government is trying to expedite the execution in order to avoid Eid ul-Adha 3. In an America context, no one (even pro-death penalty citizens) wants to hold an execution on Christmas, so the desire to avoid Eid is logical. The arguments used to justify the speed of the process, however, are not.
Sunni muslims celebrate Eid this Saturday, while Shiite muslims celebrate Eid on Sunday. Saddam Hussein, a Sunni muslim, is rumored to be scheduled for execution early Saturday morning, or during the Sunni observation of Eid. This seems to be a violation of the law forbidding executions during Eid, until one considers the rhetoric of one Muneer Haddad, a judge on the Iraqi High Tribunal. Consider the following passage from the New York Times:
Mr. Haddad was dismissive of those concerns [about an execution on the Sunni Eid], injecting some of the sectarian split that is ripping this country apart into his response to a question on the subject.While Hussein was derided for (among many other things) intolerance4 to Suni muslims, U.S. efforts were said to be in the spirit of spreading an inclusive democracy. Parse Mr. Hassad's comment how you will, but you will not find a single shred of inclusion. In fact, one begins to suspect that because of U.S. actions in Iraq, Shiites are in for a very difficult time.
“Tomorrow is not Eid,” he said. “The official Eid in Iraq is Sunday.”
As for Mr. Hussein’s being a Sunni, he said, “Saddam is not Sunni. And he is not Shiite. He is not Muslim.”
Hussein's lawyers, meanwhile, are attempting to get a temporary stay of execution while another appeal can be formulated. Mr. Haddad has called this filing "rubbish" (CNN.com).
Anti-war supporters and anti-Bush partisans have gotten staggering amounts of mileage from the President's premature claim of "mission accomplished," yet Mr. Hassad's claims seem to justify them all, if not their often ad hominem spirit. In these few remarks, Hassad shows how deeply divided the Iraqi people remain (at least those who hold office) and how religion and retribution6 remain motivating factors in the Iraqi "democracy."
Without U.S. intervention, a move that would undermine our own stated goals of "turning Iraq over," it seems likely that sometime during the evening of December 29th or in the early morning of December 30th, Saddam Hussein with be hanged in Baghdad, in an area known as the Green Zone. Already, a judge, a cleric and a physician, three mandatory attendees at a legal execution, are on standby at the site.
The execution of Saddam Hussein, which might alternatively have stood as the apex of U.S. achievement involving Iraq7, will stand as a tragic reminder of U.S. failure in the region8. For this and many other reasons, Hussein's execution should be a source of remorse and sadness, a call to renew efforts to correct (as best one can) the problematic situation the U.S. has created in Iraq, and a tragedy.
When his body is lowered from the gallows, prepare for Hell to break loose.
1No civilian in the viewing public at large, I mean; reports demonstrate that various soon-to--be high-level officials in the incoming administration had designs on a night like tonight.
2No disrespect intended to the memories of the 148 Shiite men and boys from Dujail who were executed at Hussein's order in 1982, who Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refers to as "the martyrs of Iraq," but it is hard to see Hussein's execution as an Iraqi-determined action. While the country cannot, even with U.S. "help" (i.e. leadership), guarantee electricity to those parts of the country that enjoyed electricity before U.S. occupation, Iraqi officials claim, “It just goes to show that the Iraqis call the shots on something like this” (nytimes.com).a Few citizens of the world will view this execution as anything other than the final exercise of the U.S.'s will against Husseinb.
aThe very fact that it is "easier" to execute someone than to establish a power grid suggests just how dangerous the power of the death penalty is.
bAnd we thought economic policies encouraged terrorism....
3An execution during Eid would be against the law unless a fatwa is issued, but apparently kicking off Eid with the execution of a former world leader is generally a-ok.
4"Intolerance" meaning everything from prejudice to execution.
5And let's maybe not even talk about the U.S.'s anti-theocracy stance, the rampant fear of a caliphate, etc. These ideological beliefs make us look bad as builders of a nation where judges feel free to determine one's religion and the quality of one's allegiance to it.
6From CNN.com: "'I would have wished for this [execution] to happen in Sadr City, where he [Hussein] has killed the most people,' [Baha al-Araji, a member of the Iraqi parliament] said."
7That hurt to write.
8Though when Mr. Maliki claimsAnyone who rejects the execution of Saddam is undermining the martyrs of Iraq and their dignity,” one thinks that he might have learned the current U.S. You're-For-Us-Or-You're-Against-Us lesson of democracy perhaps too well (nytimes.com).
Santoro, Marc. "Iraq Prepares to Execute Hussein." The New York Times. 29 Dec 2006. 29 Dec 2006 <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/29/world/middleeast/29cnd-hussein.html?hp&ex=1167454800&amp;amp;amp;en=a4dd74427c9014a9&ei=5094&partner=homepage>
"Hussein execution imminent, sources say." CNN.com. 29 Dec 2006. 29 Dec 2006 <http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/12/29/hussein/index.html>